As I contemplate the "Spring Cleaning" of our Airstream, I remembered that Ben wrote a very thorough article about washing and waxing a trailer. So here it is, from our archives. We hope it helps keeping your Airstream looking good as new! -ML
“Tin Can”, “Shiny Submarine”, “Silver Twinkie”, “The Aluminum Falcon!”
There are a lot of different ways people describe an Airstream travel trailer, and of course these names are derived from Airstream’s trademark aluminum skin. However, the process of keeping the skin looking its best can be daunting to some. “We don’t want to ruin the shine!” is a phrase I’ve heard many times over the years I’ve worked for Can-Am. So, to help you keep your Airstream looking it’s finest, here’s a few tips about how it’s done!
***It’s important to point out for vintage Airstream’s with the clear coat removed, skin maintenance is COMPLETELY different. If your Airstream has been polished to a mirror shine, has had the clear coat removed, or was manufactured before clear coat was standard, then disregard the following!***
Looking closely at an Airstream’s skin, you’ll notice a fine grain in the aluminum, closely resembling brushed stainless. The direction of the grain is the most important aspect of washing and waxing your Airstream. I’ve heard and read many times that because there’s a clear coat covering the aluminum, it doesn’t matter what way your wash and wax. THIS IS NOT TRUE! It matters very much, and as the Airstream ages, the result of incorrect washing will show!
The reason for going with the grain of aluminum is simple. Over time light scratches can start to occur, similar to the light swirls on the paint of your car. Scratches going with the aluminum grain are far less noticeable than those that go against it.
Of course, no one likes the idea of scratches on their Airstream. The word alone is cringe-worthy to any Airstream owner! To combat the development of these scratches, it’s important to use proper equipment to wash it. The softer the wash applicator, the better! A microfiber wash mitt or an extra soft wash brush is what we recommend when washing an Airstream. Paired with basic car wash soap, this will give you the best chance at keeping the clear coat in good condition.
To wash, I have found it was best to do it in 4 sections: front, back, roadside & curbside. Thoroughly wet the section down, removing any loose dirt or debris. Grab your bucket of soapy water and preferred wash tool and start from the top and work your way down! Remember: Always scrub with the grain!
- A tip while washing: Rinse off the soap starting from the top, working your way down. While the soapy water runs down it will remove any leftover dirt from the trailer.
The final step to keeping your Airstream looking its best is a good coat of wax. This protects the skin from UV exposure and can help keep the aluminum from producing filiform corrosion; the white, spider web-looking spots that can form under the clear coat when the aluminum is exposed to impurities in the air. The wax also helps prevent and reduce scratches; in some cases, it will make those light scratches disappear! The difference between an Airstream that’s been waxed vs. not waxed can be rather shocking!
The above picture on the left shows the scratches produced by improperly washing an Airstream. Luckily, a coat of wax was able to remove the worst of it (right).
To achieve that eye-catching shine, it’s very important you use the proper wax product. There are two different products that are safe to use on your Airstream, and it’s important to know the difference, and when to use each one.